Twelve Years Later WBO Title Real Deal to Evander

By George Kimball


Twelve Years Later WBO Title Real Deal to Evander

NEW YORK --- The most oft-quoted entry from the boxing version of Bartlett’s might be Bob Arum’s “Yesterday I was lying. Today I’m telling the truth.” Arum’s line was uttered to the late Bob Waters lo these many years ago. Nowadays it probably should be twinned with its converse, which appears to have become the guiding credo of Evander Holyfield. As in “yesterday I was telling the truth…” You figure it out.

Perhaps the Real Deal has simply become forgetful in his dotage, but it seems more as if he’s suffering from selective memory loss. Ask him about his third fight against Riddick Bowe and he can cite you chapter and verse about his fifth-round knockdown of Big Daddy – which came three rounds before Evander himself was stopped in the finale of their trilogy.

But ask him about his refusal to proceed with that fight if it were for the WBO heavyweight title, which Bowe then held, and all you get is an embarrassed look, followed by “I have no recollection of that.”  Just before Evander scoots away in search of safer ground at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The odd circumstances preceding Bowe-Holyfield III came rushing back once Evander signed to fight for Sultan Ibragimov’s WBO title.  In 2007 Holyfield might have decided to confer legitimacy on the Body Odor championship, but in 1995 he wouldn’t even step into the ring if that sanctioning body were involved.

A quick history lesson: In 1990 Holyfield became the unified champion by knocking out Buster Douglas, who had won the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles from Mike Tyson earlier in the year.

In 1992 Holyfield lost all three titles to Bowe, who promptly tossed the WBC belt into a London trash bin, meaning that only the WBA and IBF belts remained for Holyfield to pick up when he defeated Bowe in their rematch the next year – a bout remembered as much for the intervention of the “Fan Man” as for its outcome.

By the time they met for the third time, Holyfield had lost his two belts to Michael Moorer, but Bowe had picked up another one, knocking out Herbie Hide in March of ’95 to win the WBO title, which he then successfully defended against Jorge Luis Gonzales.

The stage was seemingly thus set for a third Bowe-Holyfield battle, this time for the WBO title, but Holyfield was so adamant in his refusal to fight for that championship that, at his insistence, it was specifically excluded in the bout agreement.

Bowe-Holyfield was scheduled for 12 rounds, but the only belt at stake was one which had been manufactured for that purpose by the New York Daily News. (“And that one,” said Wolf Man Katz, who had talked his newspaper into sanctioning the fight before he got a look at the spare tire around Bowe’s midsection, “doesn’t even fit.”)

Holyfield’s stated reason for refusing to participate in a WBO title fight was that he felt it might be an impediment to his goal of regaining the “real” titles he had formerly owned.

But that was then and this is now. On October 13 at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, Holyfield will challenge for Ibragimov’s WBO title. And to hear Evander tell it now, Sultan’s belt might as well be the same one John L. Sullivan used to own.

“The WBO title is as good as any of them,” Main Events lawyer Pat English, who then as now represented Holyfield’s interests, said before Thursday’s New York press gathering. “But that wasn’t the case in 1995. Besides, I’ve reminded Evander that it isn’t the title, but who holds it that counts.”

Interesting observation, that. A glance at the roster of WBO champions in November of 1995, when Holyfield spurned the organization, reveals that it included Johnny Tapia (junior bantamweight), Marco Antonio Barrera (junior feather), Naseem Hamed (featherweight), Oscar De La Hoya (lightweight), Steve Collins (super-middleweight), Dariusz Michalczewski (light-heavyweight), and, of course, Bowe.

Don’t know about you, but alongside today’s list of “champions,” starting with Sultan Ibragimov, that looks to us like a veritable murderer’s row.

Okay, so Evander wanted nothing to do with the WBO a dozen years ago but now he does. His bargaining position isn’t quite as strong at 44, and he’s fortunate to be fighting for a title of any description these days. But that doesn’t change the past. He could be a man and acknowledge that episode in his life, or he can do the other thing, which is to deny any memory of it.

And, in fairness, maybe Evander really doesn’t remember. But if that’s the case, perhaps Ron Scott Stevens was right in the first place. Maybe he shouldn’t be fighting at all.


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